Antonelli arrived in Philadelphia with his family when he was fourteen. His father, a cabinet maker working for the Victor company, died when he was seventeen. Antonelli left school to support the family. In the evenings he attended classes at the Graphic Sketch Club in Philadelphia.
In 1925 he opened his own studio in Philadelphia. He received international acclaim during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Antonelli's photographs received top awards at major shows in Paris, London, Barcelona, Rotterdam, Brussels, Rome, and Tokyo. Considered a major "futurist" artist and photographer, as well as a "photo-picturalist", he built his international reputation and career on his imaginative portrayals of the human figure and face, works that range from playful to provocative; he was also renowned for his industrial and commercial art.
Antonelli was a legendary figure in the history of the Philadelphia Italian-American community, enhancing the Italian contribution to American culture and enriching the history of photography in Philadelphia. He was one of the founding members of The Da Vinci Art Alliance located and still active in Philadelphia. In 1938 he founded a school of photography both to train professional photographers and to train military photographers. He was its president until 1974; it continues as the Antonelli Institute Art & Photography (Erdenheim, PA).
Severo Antonelli's work was featured (twice) in what remains the largest one-man photography exhibits ever held at the Smithsonian Institution. His work is also part of the permanent collection at Woodmere Art Museum.
Marriage and Death
In 1985, nearly eighty years old, Antonelli married Kay Mauchly, the widow of computer pioneer John Mauchly and herself one of the first computer programmers. They enjoyed nearly nine years of marriage before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He died in 1995, just before their tenth wedding anniversary.
Severo is a first cousin of retired Major League Baseball pitcher, Johnny Antonelli.
- Museums: Woodmere Art Museum
- The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Antonelli Institute